You know what happens when you start doing a good thing? Sometimes it’s hard to stop. What I mean by that is that this week’s post is another birthday dessert request. Well, birthday request isn’t quite accurate. But it was a request, and it was a birthday dessert.
Here’s the story. Another friend’s birthday was coming up, and I thought it would be fun to make him a dessert. He didn’t ask for one. And I didn’t ask him for his favorite dessert. But he had sent my wife an email a little while before with a link to the recipe and a subject of “Carl. Must. Make.” So I figured it was a good bet. And by not asking him, I figured I could keep the surprise.
Before I started making it, my wife had gotten some of the ingredients because I had had a long day at work. (Thank you, hon!) I thought I might have had some almond flour for the crust, but it had gone bad. So I went with a known entity for the crust. Ye old smitten kitchen favorite (which I used for the pumpkin pie and chocolate pretzel pecan pie). Plus it makes two crusts, so this way I would have an extra one left for something else.
The crust took about a half hour from start to finish. While making the crust, the recipe asks for ice water. I didn’t have ice handy, but I let the water sit in the fridge so it would be cold. It also asks you to cut the butter into 1/2 inch pieces, which I measured more carefully this time. It was pretty easy to put together, and I let it refrigerate over night, so I could make the pie in the morning.
Fast forward to the next morning when I put the pie together. The caramel was interesting. I have made caramel a lot (particularly for my millionaire’s shortbread), but this time was different. Maybe I used too big of a pan? It said to use “moderate heat”, “stir sparingly”, and add the sugar “slowly”. Needless to say, it took a while to make.
It also then said to “add the hot heavy cream”. I was a little confused, because it had said earlier to “set aside” the cream after I heated it. To me that meant take it off the heat. I could have left it on the heat, but since the caramel took a while to make, I was concerned that it would get heated too much.
I cooled it. I thought that maybe the thermometer was incorrect because when it got to the “right” temperature it was as hard as a rock. (I have since learned that my thermometer doesn’t measure accurately, so it was indeed incorrect.) In order to be able to stir in the eggs and butter and vanilla, I had to reheat it. That made it liquid enough. But then the eggs kinda cooked and it was still a little clumpy. I was afraid it would be too hard when it cooled, but it looked to be okay at that point. (By the way, it never mentioned putting the salt in. Oh well, I didn’t use it.)
I followed the instructions for the pie crust from smitten kitchen. Twice actually. I had to do it twice, because the first time was just a mess. It was uneven and too thin in places. The second time was much better. I had to do a little patching on some parts because I had made a rectangle more than a square, but it was good. And then, per the recipe’s instructions, I did end up refrigerating it for a few minutes. (I figured even the dough was different, it couldn’t hurt for it to cool a little bit.)
I put parchment paper on top and then used our new pie weights to weigh it down. We got them at a great Brooklyn kitchen supply store, aptly named the Brooklyn Kitchen. We had registered with them for our wedding and also ended up getting some gift certificates as presents. Many years later, we finally got around to using them. One of the items we got was a set of pie weights. This was the first recipe where I used them.
I cooked the crust for 10 minutes. The crust wasn’t really that brown. But again I figured the crust was a little different, and I didn’t want to overcook it. It puffed up a little bit. Maybe I needed more pie weights?
The recipe said to start with “4.5 ounces of the caramel mixture”. Let’s just say that it was fun to measure. It wasn’t that much of the mixture, maybe because it was still clumpy. I put a bit more in to cover the bottom of the pie. They said to use 1/3 of the pecans, and I guessed at how much that was. When I got to the top of the pie, I started by arranging the halves nicely. But then I decided to just throw them on and arrange them because there wouldn’t have been enough to make nice circles like in the picture.
I baked it for 15 minutes at first. I think my oven cooks a little hot, and the crust was different so I wanted to make sure I didn’t overcook it. It wasn’t ready after 15 minutes. I put it in for 5 more minutes. It still didn’t look ready, so I put in for an extra 2 minutes. At that point the caramel kinda looked like it was setting and I figured it would set more as it cooled.
The crust might not have cooked all the way though. So I guess that’s why it needed to be pre-baked. Also the crust slipped a little bit so some of the filling oozed out, but thankfully not out of the pan. I don’t have a fluted pie plate, and since I was making it as a gift and it needed to travel anyway, I just used a regular 9″ aluminum pie plate.
I told him about it that night. I said I had made a dessert for him. I told him that I wasn’t sure how it turned out, but that if it was bad I could make him another. He said if I made it, he was sure it was good. (He’s had some experience with my baked goods and knows what he’s talking about. In fact, he has jokingly said he wants to bankroll a bakery for me in the future once he’s rich.) I thanked him for his confidence and said that while normally I would agree with him, this time I had a fight with the pie and I wasn’t sure who won.
By the time I got back from the birthday celebrations, the pie had set. Somewhat to my surprise, it actually seemed like a pie. I put it in the fridge, and decided to wait and see what he would say about it. The next day he came over to have some birthday dessert, not knowing what it was. He was very surprised.
I warmed it up a bit because it was cold from sitting in the fridge, but it’s possible I warmed it up a little too much. It ended up being gooey, maybe a little too gooey, but it was really good. The thing is, it wasn’t exactly caramel, it was more like toffee. I had kinda accidentally made toffee. Oops. But as it turned out, the toffee was nice and crunchy and gave it a good texture. Bits of it were like I expected and then bits of it were hard and crunchy. I liked it, the birthday boy liked it, everyone liked it. It wasn’t exactly the pie that it was supposed to be, but it was a new and maybe better pie? Or maybe this was the pie it was secretly, deep down, always supposed to be?
My wife reminded him that I had originally offered to make something else if it wasn’t good. She then jokingly asked what he thought of the pie. “It’s terrible,” he said. (I didn’t make him another pie.)
So despite the thermometer issues and the instruction issues, it was still yummy. Maybe not how they intended, but good nonetheless. If you try it out, let me know how it goes for you. I’d also love to hear about any other happy mishaps you’ve had with recipes. Ever accidentally make something (possibly) better than the original? Let me know, and happy baking!